I'm no daredevil. I never drive more than four miles above the speed limit. I always wear a helmet when I’m supposed to. I refuse to take kickboxing for fear of shattered shin bones. And heights greatly increase my heart rate.
But I have only one answer to the question: What would you do if money wasn't an issue? Simple. I'd be Drew Barrymore's stunt double.
Today, as Mondays go, was a good day. I woke up, grabbed a peanut butter protein bar as I ran out the door and spent 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throwing myself off of things. The first day of stunt boot camp at L.A. Stunts was dedicated to learning how to fall—or at least hit the ground—without completely mangling yourself. Head instructor Mike (aka Michael R. Long, as he's listed on IMDB.com atop 80-plus film credits) rightly insists we learn how to tuck and roll before he starts driving a car at us. But eight hours of ground pounding, padding or not, hurts. My neck hates me.
We learn how to tuck and roll before he starts driving a car at us. ... I loved getting hit by that damn car.
My notes will be brief today. Woke up late, again. Barely got to class on time, again. We learned about fighting for the camera—my favorite, given my martial arts training—but I still have a lot to learn. What works well in sparring matches does not work for the camera, and if it doesn't look good on film, you don't have a job. Facility director Shelby Swatek must have told us a dozen times to slow everything down. Come video-watching time at the end of the day, it was obvious who listened. A fast punch looks like a fleshy blur on film, not a head-smashing blow.
Monday my neck wanted me dead; today it's my knee. We started with ratchets, a stunt rigged with a rope, pulleys and a six-foot compressed air piston to create the illusion of someone being sucked out of an airplane. We boot campers agreed: Ratchets are better than roller coasters, even if you run the risk of slamming your leg into your face as your body hits the pads. It was worth every long, purple bruise on my abdomen.
Gilley Grey, a 20-year stunt veteran and former Los Angeles firefighter, demonstrated setting himself on fire. He's done more than 250 safe burns, including one that engulfed not only himself but the horse he was riding. Incredible. It was stunning how much control Gilley had over the whole situation, but clearly his years of experience and thousands of dollars' worth of protective clothing aided him. From what I can tell, burns are better left to the specialists.
He's done more than 250 safe burns, including one that engulfed not only himself but the horse he was riding.
Holy crap. Four days of this intense training feels more like eight. We did some challenging stuff today, including air rams and car hits. Air rams are like human catapults and just as dangerous as that sounds. I got “bitten” a few times, but I came out injury-free thanks to kung fu-developed quad strength. I can't imagine learning to ride the air ram while on the set of a film, as some stunt performers do. I'd almost surely take my leg off. Kudos to Mike and Shelby for keeping us fledglings safe.
Stunt Tip of the Day: You can never invest in too many pads
I still have my blood-soaked T-shirt as a souvenir.
Fifteen bruises, one bum knee, two road-rashed ankles, a knotted back and one pound of Epsom salt is a small price for the knowledge I absorbed this week. We didn't learn many new skills today but instead revisited ratchets (yay) and car hits (double yay!). We also went higher on the fall tower, making the drop from about 12 feet—a fear-quashing moment given my vertigo. After high falls and some expert pad maneuvering, it was a wrap. Mike teared up again, but this time it was with the pride of a instructor releasing his students into the world. He's a hardcore stuntman with the heart of a teddy bear, but he’ll put you in your place when you need it. Shelby, Gilley and the whole L.A. Stunts crew were tremendous assets. From here, it's up to me to get myself into the intense New Mexico film industry and make my fantasy stunt career something more.
Stunt Tip of the Day: Safety is more important than a paycheck